What’s in a Name?

A portrait shot of a serious looking middle-aged African-American male (Barack Obama) looking straight ahead. He has short black hair, and is wearing a dark navy blazer with a blue striped tie over a light blue collared shirt. In the background are two flags hanging from separate flagpoles: an American flag, and one from the Executive Office of the President.

Barack Hussein Obama.  Not many people emphasize the middle name.  But when they do, they really emphasize it.  This emphasis is also a disparaging or harsh tone.  This emphasis is usually from people that hate Obama.  Why is that?  Oh, I get it.  It’s because “Hussein” is the same name of the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.  So, let me see if I get this straight: if anyone has the same name as a dictator, then both of those individuals are bad.  Ok, let’s play out this game.

George H. W. Bush and his son, George W. Bush. A portrait shot of a smiling older male looking straight ahead. He has short gray hair, and is wearing a dark navy blazer with a blue styled tie over a white collared shirt. In the background is an American flag hanging from a flagpole.It seems innocent enough. . . except that was the same name as the last American dictator: King George III.  Oh my God!  Full-length portrait in oils of a clean-shaven young man in eighteenth century dress: gold jacket and breeches, ermine cloak, powdered wig, white stockings, and buckled shoes.

According to this logic, both Bushes were evil men.  Indeed, George Washington is an evil guy as well.

Let’s keep going.  Joseph Stalin.  That’s a good example of a bad guy.  But if you want to keep this logic, then anyone named “Joseph” is also a bad guy.  Too bad because there are a lot of people named “Joseph” or “Joe.”  But names are also translated into different ones based on the language.  Take my name for example: Shaun.  Shaun is an anglicized version of Sean, which is an Irish version of John, which is the Latin form of the Greek name of Iohannes, which is the Hebrew version of Yochanan, which ultimately means “YHWH [God’s name] is graceful.” So let’s look up “Hussein.”  Hussein is an Arabic version of Husayn, which is a diminutive version if Husan, which means “handsome.”  Sounds innocent enough.  Ahh but wait, there are other names that means “handsome.”  Alan means “handsome,” so does Kevin.  Should we demonize anyone named “Alan” or “Kevin” because they are a very indirect transliteration of “Hussein”?  If so, I guess we should’ve demonized both the 41st and 43rd Presidents for having the same name as America’s first dictator.


UPDATE: Ah, but if one says, but it’s Arabic and nothing good can come out of the Arabic language.  Really?  I suggest to educate yourself and see what words you’re not aloud to use.

About shaunmiller

I have just completed a visiting position as an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. My ideas are not associated with my employer; they are expressions of my own thoughts and ideas. Some of them are just musings while others could be serious discussions that could turn into a bigger project. Besides philosophy, I enjoy martial arts (Kuk Sool Won), playing my violin, enjoying coffee around town, and experimenting with new food.
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2 Responses to What’s in a Name?

  1. aubreycierra says:

    Interesting line of logic. Somethings just make no sense but there are a lot of judgments when it comes to names in a lot of different places. For instance there was a study on discrimination of job applications by names(I will track down the actual study if you would like it). Where people with ethnic sounding names were less likely to get called back even if they has equivalent qualifications for the job as someone who had a ‘non-ethnic’ name. It is a bit silly really…

    • shaunmiller says:

      That’s an interesting result. Kal Penn–you may remember him as Kumar from Harold and Kumar go to White Castle–complained that he wouldn’t get any calls back because of his name. It turns out that Kal Penn isn’t his real name. Kal Penn is actually Kalpen Modi. Because of this, no one would call him back for audition interviews. Thus, he changed his first name into two: Kalpen into Kal Penn. Instantly, he got calls and the rest is history. Names still have a connotation of race, ethnicity, and gender attached.

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